Germany goes to the polls today in one of the most unpredictable elections in its recent history. Angela Merkel’s conservatives led by Armin Laschet and the center-left Social Democrats led by Olaf Scholz are in a tight race for her crown as she prepares to leave the political stage after 16 years holding the reins of power.
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9:30 am Paris time
What role does the postal vote play in this election during the coronavirus pandemic?
JowharBerlin correspondent Nick Spicer explains how today’s elections will unfold when Germany goes to the polls.
The German elections to choose Merkel’s successor are too close to be called
8:40 am, Paris time
Germany’s complicated electoral process
The polls close at 6:00 pm Paris time tonight, but it may be some time before it becomes clear who will succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor.
The chancellor is not directly elected, but is chosen through a vote in the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, after a government has been formed, meaning that Merkel could still remain in office for weeks, if not months.
>> The Merkel era: 16 years in command of Germany comes to an end
After years of bipartisan coalitions, this time it will likely take three parties to achieve a majority – common in Germany’s regional parliaments, but not seen nationally since the 1950s.
In most parliamentary systems, the head of state nominates a party to form a government, usually the party that has won the most votes.
But in Germany, all parties can embark on what are known as “exploratory talks.”
In this initial phase, which has no time limit, there is nothing to prevent the parties from holding coalition talks in parallel, although tradition dictates that the larger party will invite the smaller parties to the discussions.
The Greens have already called a party congress for Saturday, October 2, during which they could decide with whom they would engage in exploratory talks.
“Whoever gets the majority in the Bundestag will become chancellor,” Armin Laschet of Merkel’s conservative CDU-CSU alliance said last week, suggesting that the second-place party could also start negotiations.
Discussions will begin as soon as the results are obtained, and the parties will seek to uncover each other’s red lines and establish whether they can work together.
On Monday, the day after the elections, the parties will hold leadership meetings. Newly elected MPs from each party will also hold their first meetings next week, with the SPD and CDU-CSU planning to meet on Tuesday.
The newly elected parliament must hold its inaugural session no later than 30 days after the election, on October 26.
Destroying the details
If two or three parties agree in principle that they would like to form an alliance, then formal coalition negotiations should begin, with several working groups meeting to discuss policy issues.
At the end of these negotiations, the parties decide who will be in charge of which ministry and sign a coalition contract, a thick document that sets out the terms of the agreement.
This phase also has no time limit, while the outgoing government keeps the fort in the meantime.
The parties then designate who they would like to be chancellor before the official vote in the Bundestag.
After Germany’s last election on September 24, 2017, Merkel was formally confirmed as chancellor in a coalition between the CDU-CSU and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) only on March 14, 2018.
Worst of cases
According to article 63 of the German constitution, the head of state must propose a potential chancellor to the Bundestag.
If a cross-party alliance does not emerge, SPD Chairman Frank-Walter Steinmeier can still nominate a potential chancellor, probably from whichever party has won the most votes.
Parliament will then vote in a secret ballot, and the candidate will need an absolute majority.
If this is not achieved, a second vote will take place two weeks later. If there is still no absolute majority, there is an immediate third vote in which a relative majority is sufficient.
The president then decides whether to appoint the chancellor as head of a minority government or to dissolve the Bundestag and call new elections.
This worst-case scenario was narrowly avoided in 2017: Faced with a stalemate in negotiations, Steinmeier urged the parties to meet again, pressing for the renewal of the so-called grand coalition.
( Jowharwith AFP)
8:00 am Paris time
Polling stations have been opened throughout Germany so that people can cast their vote in federal parliamentary elections. Polling stations will remain open until 6:00 pm Paris time.
After they close, the returning federal official will announce the results of the interim elections. These will be calculated using exit poll data and published results from local electoral districts collected so far. The vote count will continue until the early hours of the morning.
Opinion polls show the chancellorship race is heading towards a photographic end, with Merkel’s conservative CDU-CSU alliance at around 23 percent, just behind the center-left Social Democrats at 25 percent. This two-point disparity falls within the margin of error.
“We will certainly see some surprises on Sunday,” said Nico Siegel, director of polling company Infratest Dimap.
According to the Federal Statistical Office, around 60.4 million Germans can vote in these elections, with a number of women (31.2 million) higher than that of men (29.2 million).
The new government assumes power when the Bundestag has elected a chancellor with an absolute majority of more than 50%. The chancellor then appoints the cabinet ministers. Merkel will remain in office in an interim role until the new government officially takes office.